By Jane Forsyth “Vice présidente de l’association Charles Rennie Mackintosh en Roussillon”
Whilst France and many other countries have the traditional Christmas meal and exchange of presents, following Mass on Christmas Eve, the British tradition is to leave this the 25th December, Families with young children are usually wakened very early by excited children, anxious to discover if Father Christmas has been to them.
We always used to put out a big stocking (the one used for wellington boots) by the chimney, for Father Christmas to fill. The filling was not very grand when I was young, just a coin, an orange or tangerine and maybe some new socks and gloves. The stocking was there to be found on our beds when we wakened. I do not think modern children would be satisfied with just the Santa-filled stocking, do you?
After breakfast the table is set for Christmas dinner, using the best china and silverware. Christmas crackers are often used for the decoration. A Christmas cracker is a coloured paper tube, twisted at both ends and containing a paper crown, a joke and a small gift. Traditionally, two people pull the cracker apart and a chemical strip goes ‘bang’, as the contents fall out. These days it is more common for everyone round the table to cross their arms and pull the crackers in a group.
Crackers were invented in 1846 by Thomas Smith, following a visit to Paris, where he had seen ‘bonbons’ wrapped in paper with twists at the end. He developed this idea with more and more additions each year. Now they contain a small gift and a paper crown, the idea of which goes back to the Roman feast of Saturnalia, but also has links to the ‘King’ overlooking the Twelve Days of Christmas ceremonies. This role also derives from the Roman Saturnalia festivities when the ‘Princeps’ or leader would be chosen, often from the children.
The traditional British Christmas dinner was huge and even these days is frequently too much to eat. Goose was usually the central focus, with a wide selection of vegetables and sauces around it.
More often now the roast turkey steals the show, with its accompanying ‘pigs in blankets’, stuffing and bacon strips.
The tradition of eating (the often hated) Brussels sprouts with the Christmas dinner is thought to have started because the Victorians liked the novelty of eating baby cabbages. They became widely available in Britain towards the end of the 1800s – around the time that our modern ideas of Christmas feasting were being invented.
Once the main part of the meal has been cleared away the Christmas pudding is brought in, usually in flames. Brandy has been poured over the hot pudding which is then set alight and the blue flame is often the subject of photographs! The pudding is usually served with cream, a rum sauce or brandy butter.
After the clearing up has been done following the dinner people often settle down to watch the television for about 10 minutes, for the Queen’s address. Then the younger parts of the family are often chivvied into going out for a walk, whilst the older generation may have a ‘snooze’.
If anyone can eat anything more after that big Christmas dinner they are invited to carve up the turkey and make a sandwich for supper. It was always our tradition to eat these with pickled walnuts.
Next article :
S2E2 The Twelve Days of Christmas and Boxine Day